The History Of Ice Hockey In England

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The history of Ice Hockey in England was a topic that interested my since I played Ice Hockey for most of my life. Ice Hockey is my passion and is what I would like to build a career in. The history of the game has strong roots in England and will be analyzed in this paper along with the future of hockey in England.

When you think of Ice Hockey, the first thing to come to mind is often Canada, many believe that Ice Hockey is a Canadian born sport since it is extremely popular amongst the people in North America. However, the game has roots in Field Hockey played in Great Britain and Lacrosse by the early Native Americans of the United States the Mi’kmaq which was derived from the game of hurling from Ireland. Hockey was brought to Canada by British soldiers in the mid-1800’s where a square wooden block was moved with a stick or “hurley” to place the block into the opposing teams net. The early games of hockey included two stone nets that were frozen into each side of the ice playing surface and the first recording of a puck being used was in Canada in 1860.

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The first recorded hockey game was in 1875 in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink between two teams of McGill University students. In 1877 the McGill University Hockey Club was formed, and the rules of the game were organized due to the violent reputation that the game was forming. In the early 20th century, sticks were beginning to be manufactured, shin pads and chest protectors were starting to make up the modern required equipment for playing the game, and arenas were being developed across Eastern Canada. Meanwhile, the first game of European Ice Hockey would be played ten years after the first recorded game of hockey, this game was played between Oxford University and their rival Cambridge in St. Moritz, Switzerland. There is however discrepancy between the actual date of this game, since this game was not recorded. The first documented game would occur in 1895 between the rival universities and Oxford would win the game 6-0. The beginning of organized hockey in London began in 1903 with a five-team league based out of Prince’s Skating Club in Knightsbridge and Hengler’s Ice Rink in the City of Westminster.

In 1914, the British Ice Hockey Association became the governing body for Ice Hockey in Britain, later being replaced by Ice Hockey UK in 1999 with the rise in popularity of the sport. In the 1980’s, the British Hockey League was becoming extremely popular especially in Northeast England and Scotland in which their respective teams were at the top of the standings. The popularity grew in the 1990’s with the addition of teams in Sheffield and Manchester who drew crowds in large arenas as big as 17,000 fans. The league lost popularity in following years and folded and was replaced by the current Elite Ice Hockey League and during the 2010’s began to rise as the top tier professional hockey league in Great Britain while Ice Hockey became the fastest growing indoor and winter sport in the United Kingdom.

There are currently three leagues that make up the three-tiered system of professional hockey in Great Britain. The second and third-tier league is named the National Ice Hockey League which is split into two regions Northern England and Southern England and utilizes a promotion and relegation system between the two divisions. The third tier or the second division of the National Ice Hockey League is made up of 24 teams divided by geographical location, fifteen teams in the South and nine in the North. The first division makes up the second tier of the professional structure and included 18 teams total divided geographically, eight teams in the South and ten teams in the North. Lastly, the first tier is the Elite Ice Hockey League and it made up of 10 teams with each country in Great Britain represented, this is the only sport to have representation of teams from all four nations.

Team Great Britain was a founding member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) which was founded in 1908. Team Great Britain first competed in international competition in the early 20th century, they would win the IIHF European Championship in 1910, receive a bronze medal in the 1924 Olympics and be promoted to the top group of the Ice Hockey World Championship in 2018. Recently, the Under 18 and Under 20 British hockey teams were promoted to the B Group in the first division of the IIHF World 18 and Under Championship.

The Guardian Newspaper in England analyzed the differences between the National Hockey League and the Elite Ice Hockey League and how these differences influence the culture and attendance of the sport. In an interview with the Elite Ice Hockey Leagues Chairman Tony Smit, he discussed how the NHL can bring in tens of thousands of fans every night, he stated, “How do they bring in 20,000 fans every game?’ Is it the quality of the hockey? Of course. But is it also the giant hot dogs and beer? Both. I knew from day one I had to change the game itself. But equally important were the off-the-ice trimmings: the videotron, the fan-cam, the dizzying lights, the changing room video stream, the player meet-and-greets, and the merchandise.” He argues that, “Unlike Canada, or Sweden, or even Kazakhstan, Ice Hockey isn’t embedded into our sporting culture, though it once held the potential to be.” Although Britain has such strong roots in the game of Ice Hockey, their country does not embrace it like the United States have.

In the United Kingdom, Ice Hockey has received very little coverage. Most of the little coverage they receive is through the newspaper. In July of 2018, the Elite Ice Hockey League agreed on a two-year deal with FreeSports, a British free-to-air sports channel. This deal entailed one live game every two weeks, a pre-season preview show, highlights, and live coverage of the playoff final. Most of the other coverage is handled by local newspapers and local radio stations who will cover the local team.

In 1938, the National Hockey League (NHL) competed in the first international series ever played by a professional sports organization in the United States and Canada. The Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens competed in Earls Court and Brighton in an exhibition series. This was the first of many NHL games played oversees with more games being played in 14 other countries across Europe. The last NHL game played in London occurred on September 30th, 2007 in a series played by the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. analyzed the NHL’s return to London specifically, if and how this could happen. Writer Lucy Gordon talks about how the NHL could be successful in a return to the NHL she says, “NFL and NBA games are played in London on a yearly basis nowadays, so why can’t NHL games follow suit? Well, the big issue, in reality, with this proposition, is the size of the stadia. They’re simply not big enough at the moment to cope with the demand of, say, the Tampa Bay Lightning coming over here to play the Detroit Red Wings. That really leaves just one option – the O2 in London. This wouldn’t be ideal with fans in the north, but it can hold 20,000 spectators, and other top sports have been held there.” As of now, the biggest issue that arises for the NHL in Britain is the amount of space. If they cannot put more people into the stadium, they simply cannot make money. This is an issue for the NHL because they will not make money from doing this. However, they have built rinks across the United States on baseball field and football fields. They could build a larger rink for a more successful team in the Elite Ice Hockey League and utilize that as a site for NHL exhibition matches or friendlies against teams in Great Britain. Another option could be to expand the Winter Classic or Stadium Series game oversees, both the NBA and NFL have expanded to London and have been successful why not the NHL? Stamford Bridge alone holds over 40,000 occupants and has held more than 80,000 people. Especially with the popularity of European Soccer fans might be interested in a change of scenery with an NHL rink on a football pitch.

With the increasing popularity of Ice Hockey in Great Britain, the NHL could expand their European market by focusing on Great Britain. With so much potential for growth in stadiums, media, marketing, and youth development, the NHL could find a lot of success in growing the market of ice hockey, especially in England.

This analysis will offer me a better understanding of the history of one of the most influential sports in English history and a better understanding of what semi-professional and professional sports outside Cricket and Football look like.


  1. Gordon, L. (2019, March 28). Will the NHL Global Series Return to Britain? Retrieved February 20, 2020, from
  2. Ice hockey in the United Kingdom. (2020, January 21). Retrieved February 20, 2020, from
  3. Moshakis, A. (2018, September 23). Get your skates on: the rise of British ice hockey. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from skates-on-the-rise-of-british-ice-hockey
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The History Of Ice Hockey In England. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
“The History Of Ice Hockey In England.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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